Recently here on Inc.com I rounded up gizmos and apps that promise to help you focus, either blocking out the sites that distract you most or locking you into the "good" work you should be doing. But while there's no shortage of such tools and clearly plenty of demand for them, as I noted in the piece, there's also some skepticism that tech is really the solution to our tech-induced inability to focus.
"The biggest problem with these technologies is that they don't exhibit many of the important traits found in products that change behavior for good," blogger Nir Eyal noted, for instance. "I worry many of the products attempting to keep us focused are things people feel they have to use instead of want to use."
It's fair enough to wonder if one more app is the solution to your app addiction, but the question of whether these tools work is one that science can actually answer, and a recent study offers some good news to those hoping that a tech tool can save them from their tendency to procrastinate.
Tech beats willpower
The research out of Cornell focused on students taking online courses but the results might be applicable to entrepreneurs as well. To investigate how anti-distraction apps affect student performance, the research focused on 657 students enrolled in a MOOC offered by Stanford, separating them into three groups to test different tools that claim to boost focus (one tool set a daily limit for time spent on distracting sites, another caused a reminder to get back to work to pop up after 30 minutes of slacking, and a third blocked distracting sites for a set amount of time), as well as a control group who had to rely only on good, old fashioned willpower.
So did these interventions work? Yup, explains a write-up of the research on Inside Higher Ed. The tool that limited access to cat pictures and the like to a fixed number of minutes per day was particularly effective.
"Students testing the commitment tool showed statistically distinguishable performance improvements. Compared to those in the control group, the students spent 24 percent more time on course work (or 5.5 hours), submitted 27 percent more homework assignments and were 40 percent more likely to finish the MOOC. Their grades were also 0.29 standard deviations higher than for students in the control group, which is 'roughly the same difference in course performance observed between students with Ph.D.s or M.D.s and students with bachelor's degrees,' according to the report," reports the article.
Of course, this was far truer for those students who initially reported that the course was "very" or "extremely" important to them. But that's no surprise--if you don't actually want to do the work, no gizmo will help you. But if you do, then this research suggests those apps I rounded up might actually be worth a try.
Have you found anti-distraction apps to be effective for you?